By Denis Jjuuko
There is something interesting happening in Zimbabwe. Not the army bringing out tanks and heavy weapons, rather the first target of their actions. The Zimbabwe Defense Forces moved out tanks and armoured vehicles onto the streets of Harare to take over the national broadcaster, which according to some reports I have seen is only listened to by a mere 30% of the general population.
They left the Internet intact and I had a chat with a friend in Harare last night. He didn’t indicate that he was using a virtual private network to communicate.
The Zimbabwe army in doing this took the country and indeed the continent back to the pre-1990s. Back in the day whoever wanted to control anything and even become president, the only thing they needed was to control the so-called national broadcasters.
People always waited with abated breath during tensions like they are in Harare on a statement from the army. And indeed the army issued a statement saying they are targeting criminals at the national broadcasters. They must really be big criminals if tanks and heavy weapons could be deployed unless somebody just wanted to show off like most African ‘strongmen’ do.
The national broadcasters were always the game changers in any political conflict in Africa. Without it, total control of the population seemed difficult. In fact Idi Amin as he fled Uganda through the east in April 1979, he went along with some radio equipment. Along the way, he would stop his convoy to assure Ugandans that he was in charge. He was the first version of Iraq’s Comical Ali. Those who took over from Amin used the same radio. Eight years earlier, Amin had secured the microphone of Radio Uganda where he announced his several point programme and the reason he had overthrown his mentor, Milton Obote.
In 1986, there must have been a battle for the soul of Radio Uganda because Museveni without it he couldn’t declare himself president and make his “fundamental change” speech. And throughout Africa, radio played the most important part in any political changes.
So it is amusing that in Zimbabwe in 2017, the army’s first action after leaving the barracks was to take over the national broadcaster. Of course Zimbabwe isn’t like Uganda or other parts of Africa where hundreds of privately owned radio stations exist.
Nevertheless it is strange that control of Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter wasn’t top of the agenda of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces. Could they be living in the past? Can they control information only through the national broadcaster? Or they are ahead of other African armies in realizing the futility of total control of the internet? Time will tell.
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